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Seven Habits Deeper Issues: Why is Win-Win So Rare?
We Dream of Win-Win
I know that I deeply want a life of ease, flow, joy, and success. I think we all do. Great love stories are win-win. Great success stories where industries are built that employ thousands and make the world a better place are win-win.
In myth, the Garden of Eden is win-win. Adam and Eve are happy, and so is God. Anthropologist Mircea Eliade expanded on this across all cultures in The Myth of Eternal Return. I believe that all of this is talking about our deep desire for the simplicity, ease, and joy of win-win.
The desire for a life that is a dance of joy and success is deep within each of us.
The reality of a life full of conflict: of us vs. them; of competitive business; of worker vs. boss; of war and competition is all around us.
Can we build a win-win world?
I don't know.
But I know I can't stop trying.
Win-Win Looks Good, But It Isn't Easy
As I write about The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I see that my readers are focusing on the more advanced articles. And there is a lot more to learn. So, I've decided to share my cutting-edge thinking in this series of articles about the Deeper Issues of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
These articles are more personal and exploratory than the first series. Please read on, and we will learn and grow together. Now that's win-win!
Win-Win Looks Good, But It Isn't Easy
Win-win - that is, work and life arrangements where everyone ends up better off - sure sounds good on paper. But such efforts work out very rarely. That's part of why 95% of all new business ventures fail: the entrepreneur expects to have a great team, and it just doesn't happen. My life has shown me how rare win-win is, and it has started to show me why. I'm going to share what I've found with you.
Rare and difficult does not mean impossible. Once we see the size of the challenge, we can achieve our goal. People thought climbing Mount Everest was impossible. But if we take the problem apart, we can solve it: Low oxygen - bring oxygen; Cold - develop better winter gear; Dangerous ice - improve climbing equipment. Then the dangerous journey becomes possible. It's the same with win-win success. Achieving it is rare, and there are many pitfalls along the way. But it is possible. And the view from the top - the joy of win-win success and the tremendous value it offers everyone - makes it worth the effort.
So, while this article explores the challenges we must face, it is not the end of the story. I'll also be sharing articles on how to achieve win-win success in spite of the difficulties, starting with these.
The Rat Race
Wanting Win-Win and Not Finding It
My life story, at least the first 50 years, could be summed up as wanting win-win and not finding it. I hope the next 30 years will be different!
I've always wanted to work with people in ways that create good things together. When I was young, I thought everyone thought that way. Or, at least, I thought that if they heard about win-win, they would say, "Wow! A way out of the rat race! Let's do it!"
I was naïve. I had no idea about the depth of our conditioning and the self-defensive strength of our paradigms, or world-view. That is, I had no idea how deeply people are stuck inside boxes.
I thought at least in an office working on a business together, people would cooperate. My first eight years of college taught me how wrong I was. I worked five jobs, two at enlightened businesses, two at straightforward accounting firms, and one at a university. Win-win was nowhere to be found, not in the non-profit world, not in the for-profit world, and not in the world of education.
That changed, a little bit, when I was eight years out of college and went to work for the first world-class leader I met in the business world. His name was Robert Wedgeworth, and he was Dean of the School of Library Service at Columbia University. He was also the President of the International Federation of Library Associations, that is, the top librarian in the world. I ran the computer systems for the school, which had a half dozen administrative staff; a dozen faculty, and about 200 graduate students.
It was my first win-win work environment. We were all growing and learning together, and I was helping make that happen. At last, a win-win place to work. I was really happy. More than that, I was thriving and learning, and so was everyone around me.
Six months later, Columbia University decided to shut down the entire school.
Even when win-win teams come into being, they often don't last long.
That's when I went into business for myself.
Win-Win is a Rare Bird
Why is Win-Win So Rare?
My life has shown me that lasting win-win relationships are very rare. But why? In short, win-win is like a top sports team - it has many people, each with a different role to play. Success depends on everyone doing well, and everyone working together, as well. Let's explore this further:
- Win-Win Takes Two
- It Takes a Village to Make a Movie
- Fear and Scarcity
- Distractions and Destruction
- Awareness: Oops! We've Sprung a Leak
- Interdependence Relies on Independence
- Self-Care: Keeping Win-Win Going
Win-Win Takes Two
As we discussed in our introduction to the win-win worldview, win-win is one of four or five possible worldviews, or paradigms. Each of us operates out of one of these paradigms, and, of the five, win-win is the rarest. Most of the world thinks win-lose or lose-win.
But a win-win relationship requires two people who both think win-win. If I think win-win, and you think win-lose, then I will try to work with you. And it may work for a while. But, ultimately, your paradigm will get in the way. You will think that the only way for you to win is for me to lose. You won't keep win-win going.
If you think lose-win then you'll join up with me. But you'll be convinced that my win-win is all talk. You won't believe it is possible. It will seem like a trick to you, because you've only ever worked with people with a win-lose mindset, people who were, in the end, out to take advantage of you.
I believe this problem has actually gotten worse since Stephen Covey published The Seven Habits. Now, win-win is a good sounding buzzword. Lots of win-lose people say they're win-win. Some believe it, but have not done the real work of changing their paradigm. Others find saying "I'm win-win" is a great way to get advantage in a dog-eat-dog, win-lose world. They'll use it to come out on top in the end.
Either way, it won't work. Real win-win relationship requires two people, each of whom wants everyone to win, no matter what!
It Takes a Village to Make a Movie
This phrase comes out of Hollywood, but it's still true. If you really want to learn what this means, get the DVDs of the first two seasons of the TV show The Dead Zone and watch the bonus videos. They go into detail about how a wonderful TV show is made. One central point is that they have 30 departments, and each one, from the camera crew to the safety crew, must succeed for each episode to be great, stay within budget, and be delivered on time. So when they have a pre-production meeting, each person walks through what they will do in the coming week of filming. And they get the undivided attention of the other 29 people in the room. It's an amazing process of creative and business synergy.
Such talented, cooperative teams are incredibly rare. I've seen one other in action: Peter Jackson's cast and production team for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy.
These ventures are backed by millions of dollars. They hire the best, most careful, most creative people. That's what a real win-win team looks like.
I've tried to create such teams from scratch. But I've run into problems. You see, the people who could do well on such teams are already independent, talented, and capable. They can make their own dream real, or pick and choose their jobs. So, without an ability to deliver top salaries, how do I get such people? I've tried to do it through finding dedicated people and teaching them the 7 Habits. But that requires a lot of deep inner work where we confront our own limitations (the limitations of our paradigm, of the way we think), and most people won't do that just for a job.
Finding two win-win people is hard enough. Finding a team of win-win people who have the right talents for all the work to be done (whether it's a movie, a web site, or a brick-and-mortar business) requires a lot of cash and a lot of commitment.
Fear and Scarcity
When we try to build a win-win team without a lot of financial backing, we run into another problem. No one is win-win all the time. Even someone with a basically win-win worldview will switch back to win-lose when the money runs out.
One time, I was building a music business for a friend of mine, a brilliant and beautiful New World singer/songwriter. I had a great relationship with our publicist and we were just getting traction when the money ran out. I hoped she would devote a bit of time to our effort on spec.
I was completely honest with her and told her about the situation. She looked at me coldly and said, "Why didn't you tell me that you were going to run out of money?" Then she walked out.
Our relationship was win-win as long as it was easy. From her viewpoint, I betrayed her by running out of money. From my viewpoint, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
But people who will keep going when the going gets tough and the money runs out are few and far between. We're just not wired that way. We all have a survival brain, and, when money is scarce, people get scared. When we get scared, survival mentality kicks in, and we're back to win-lose.
What have we learned so far:
- If you think win-win and have deep pockets, you can hire a team of talented, creative, dedicated win-win people who will stay win-win as long as they are getting paid.
- Without deep pockets win-win is even rarer, because it takes a nearly enlightened mind and a lot of faith to stay win-win when the money runs out and fear, the mind of scarcity, and poverty consciousness kick in: Our natural instinct when we feel threatened is to fight for survival, that is, to return to win-lose.
Destruction and Distractions
Whenever we want to make something good happen, we want to make sure it's going to work. That is, we want to keep destruction away, and we want to keep distractions away.
So, let's say that two or more people get together to create a win-win relationship. This could be a business venture, a club or society, a friendship, or a relationship. When we do this, we are creating a new environment, a microcosm, a world within the larger world. And this world operates by different rules than the larger world. In our little world (microcosm), everything is good for everyone. We do only what works for both of us.
That doesn't mean that we are slavishly bound together. We are each independent. If I want do to something that doesn't interest you, then you can do something you like at the same time. Later, we get together and do something that we both enjoy, or that is profitable for both of us. Such win-win relationships are very free and very empowering.
Destruction: The World is Scared of Win-Win
And very different from what most of the world does most of the time. Do you remember the sappy old song, "You and me against the world. | Sometimes it seems like just you and me | against the world"? Well, that's what it is like.
And this is serious. The classic Bible verse (Mark 10:9) says "What God has joined together, let not man separate." Why this injunction? Because the world will try to pull apart what has come together in goodness, for success, for peace and joy.
Win-Win is powerful. And all around us, in our larger society, people think win-lose / lose-win. Thinking in this paradigm of conflict, they fear what is working, they fear what is successful. They feel threatened and want to tear it apart. This may not be conscious or intentional. But organizations that think win-lose will not keep win-win teams inside them. This is why Columbia University, fearful for financial reasons, closed down the School of Library Service. This is why companies seeking quarterly profits (out of fear and in competition) cannot build long-term success.
Even when the world does not go out of its way to destroy a win-win relationship, it will still make it difficult to maintain. Even when there is no destruction, there are still distractions.
Distractions Drain the Energy
So, say a couple has a win-win relationship. But what if there is a lose-win or lose-lose mother, father, or brother, or sister in the picture? Then that person, needing help, will call on the strength of the couple. Now, if it's a one-time emergency, that's fine. After all, that's what family is for - those who are well off help those in difficulty.
But lose-win and lose-lose are not emergencies, they are habits of thought. They are world-views, or ways of life. In that case, the person with the lose mentality will keep needing help, again and again. He or she will come in to stay, or will keep coming back. At this point, the energy needed to support this other person drains away the energy the couple needs for a win-win life together.
Or it may not be a family member. The problem often comes in the form of a job or a boss who is hostile or demanding. Coming home every day from a win-lose battle at work, how do we live win-win at home?
I've seen it the other way, too. I've seen win-win work environments where good people could not stay because they were married to a lose-lose partner. Their relationship kept pulling them away from work.
This problem happens in all relationships at many levels. Many years ago, I assisted a not-for-profit legal group in New York City that worked with people from Puerto Rico. They tried to hire bright, committed young Puerto Rican women as executive secretaries. They found highly capable candidates. But, again and again, it didn't work out. These women, independent themselves, were in a web of extended family that included a brother or a cousin who was in trouble in school, or using drugs, or getting involved with a gang. And the young women would be pulled away from work to take care of family. And this happened again, and again, and again, until the agency had to tell the women that they weren't doing enough work to keep their jobs.
We are all part of a larger web of practical and emotional relationships. As a result, it is very difficult to maintain long-term win-win relationships in the spider web of a win-lose society.
Awareness: Oops! We've Sprung a Leak
Here is another way of thinking about it. Win-win success is high energy. A win-win pair or team is like a high-pressure zone on a weather map. The win-lose energy all around it is a drain on that energy. Just as a low-pressure zone will pull the energy of high-pressure system in the weather, so the lose-win, low energy society will pull on the good energy of a win-win relationship, trying to take it for themselves.
If we're not careful, the surrounding win-lose environment will suck the life out of our win-win relationship or win-win team.
The Solution Begins With Awareness
If we are on a win-win team, there are ways to protect the energy we need to succeed. And all the ways of protecting our energy begin with awareness.
It's just like being on a sailing ship. A small leak in the hull is not a problem - if you catch it in time. Once we know the leak is there, we can plug it, or we can bail water, or both. But a leak below the waterline is deadly if we don't know it is there, if we don't catch it in time.
To maintain our win-win energy, we have to watch where our energy goes. Joe Dominguez, the author of the brilliant book Your Money or Your Life points out that money is something we trade our life energy for. Life energy can be measured in money, or it can be measured in hours of devoted, attentive work.
So if we want to maintain our win-win energy, we must pay attention to our focus, our time, and our money. We need to ask: Are we really showing up for work (or for this relationship)? Are we really present, or are we distracted? Are we putting in all the hours we need to? And we need to track our use of money in exactly the same way.
To say it another way, we need to be accountable for our attention, our focus, our commitment, our time, and our money. And we need to track it weekly and make corrections if we've sprung a leak, if our time, attention, or money is going to something other than the work towards our win-win goals.
With that thought, we've come full circle. Living to achieve our goals with good time planning, awareness, and prompt correction of our errors is being independent. And being independent is the victory we achieve by living the first three habits. Habit 4, Win-Win, depends on everyone on our team living Habits 1, 2, and 3.
Interdependence Relies on Independence
Seek win-win is Habit 4, the first of the Habits of Interdependence. But a team of interdependent people will only work in as much as everyone on the team is independent. Why? Why does interdependence rely on independence?
The answer is really very simple. An independent person is honest, reliable, and dependable. He does what he says he will do. She keeps her commitments.
Suppose I want to trim some trees. We're a team, and I'm counting on you to stay at the bottom of the ladder and prevent it from falling. I'm up on top of the ladder with a power saw. I'm not paying attention to you, that would distract me from my part of the job. I'm counting on you. If you wander away, I will fall and get hurt before I know you are even gone.
Let's go back to the example from It Takes a Village to Make a Movie. Thirty different teams have laid out their plans for the week, all working together, to shoot one episode. The week starts. If any one person doesn't do his or her job, the whole week can fall apart. If the cameraman doesn't put film in the camera; if the actors didn't learn their lines; if the stunt crew did not do a safety check; even if the catering van brings spoiled food - any of these could ruin the whole week and cost the show hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can see how, on a win-win team, each person must be reliable and dependable. Each person must define his or her own job clearly and get it done, whatever that takes.
In other words, each person must be independent, must be proactive (Habit 1); have clear goals that fit in with the team goals (Habit 2); and organize his or her work and do it on time (Habit 3).
Self-Care: Keeping Win-Win Going
Oops! There's more. Let's say I've built a team of capable people who all pull out their 7 Habits calendars, plan together, and deliver. That will work - but for how long?
Until one of us gets sick or tired or burned out.
We need Habit 7, Self-Renewal, too.
Our conclusion: Successful, ongoing win-win relationships require that each and every member of the team be living all six other habits. That is, a win-win team (or a win-win couple) is an effective team, living all seven habits of effectiveness.
Making Win-Win Real in Our Lives
So what have we learned? We've learned that win-win relationships are really difficult to maintain, and now we know why.
We must add one more very important fact: If we try for a win-win relationship and it doesn't work out, it's a real mess. We don't just miss our goals. We're working with a lot of energy. If we don't get it right, that energy has to go somewhere, and it's likely to blow up. It's just like driving a car. If we're driving a car at five miles an hour and something breaks down, we just stop. But if we decide to go for the gold and we're driving an Indy race car at 200 miles an hour, when something breaks, the whole car is torn apart, and maybe us with it. Win-win efforts are spectacular efforts. When spectacular, high-energy efforts fail, they create spectacular explosions, with us in the middle. If you want to understand why this is inevitable, you can read all about it in this article on positive and negative synergy.
Given the risks, do we have another option?
Yes, we do. We can just go for independence, and not even try for interdependence. Keeping this option open is essential. Stephen Covey calls this win-win-or-no-deal. That is, we'll go for win-win. But if it isn't possible, if the cost is too high, if things are going to blow up or fail again and again, we pull out and go back to doing it ourselves. And we always can - because we are independent.
If we do that, we will survive, and we will have the satisfactions of success and creativity.
But we will be missing out on a lot. We might write a novel, but we can't make a movie all on our own. We might have a good life, but we'll never know the joys of a deep, loving relationship.
The spirit calls for more. The heart calls for more.
Even when win-win seems impossible, we still want it. On a practical level, we know that win-win synergy is fifty times more powerful than working independently. We also know that our society reveres independence and doesn't see the value of teamwork and the deeper value of healthy family.
So it is right, when win-win is not available, to remain committed to personal success, to the victory of independence. But giving up hope for win-win and settling for independence would be a big mistake.
What then, is the best solution? I think it is to live independently and be open to win-win relationships. And I've discovered a bonus. I call them win-win moments. If you want to continue our journey together, read: Seven Habits Solutions: Independence with Win-Win Moments.